If the Green Bay Packers are to find redemption today in the franchise’s final appearance against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park, they are going to have to rely on the talents of some young guys – the rookies.
When the Packers were crushed at the end of last season at this same venue, there were several players who are now on the Packers roster who should have a major impact in today’s game’s outcome.
Little did Eddie Lacy, David Bakhtiari, Micah Hyde, and Datone Jones - and even Johnathan Franklin – know last January that they would be hitting the field for the Packers as linchpins in the 2013 season opener. That all changed when they were drafted by Ted Thompson and company back in April – and it really changed when the injury bug bit the Packers once again during training camp.
Projected starters DuJuan Harris, Bryan Bulaga, and Casey Hayward are all out with injuries and in their places will be Lacy, Bakhtiari, and Hyde. Jones, who was the Packers first round draft selection, was the only one of the four projected as a starter from the beginning.
Lacy was a consideration to start and we all knew he would contribute, but we weren’t sure he would be in the offensive backfield as the Packers main running back. Bakhtiari was being groomed to play at the right tackle when Bulaga went down and Hyde was buried on the depth chart at the beginning of camp before he showed what he could do.
So today they get their chance and all of them should play critical roles in whether the Packers can win this opening game.
Lacy, who showed his potential in the Packers second preseason game at St. Louis, will hope that the team’s offensive line can open some holes; Bakhtiari will have his hands full in the likes of the Smith boys – Aldon and Justin - two of the premier defensive linemen in the league; Hyde will be trying to fill a void left by Hayward, who was the runner-up in the defensive rookie of the year award last year; Jones is being looked to as the man who can help stop the run and provide some push into the 49ers offensive backfield.
If all four can produce as expected, the Packers have a shot today. If they falter, the Packers will be on the short end of the score by day’s end.
The Packers are accustomed to the “next man up” mantra. It’s a way of life around Green Bay. But having those next men up as rookies is something a bit different.
We will be watching these young guys go through their paces and will know very quickly whether they belong. We all hope they do.